How to Find a Writing Mentor
Writing is, by its nature, a solitary pursuit. Since we have to look to ourselves for inspiration and guidance, we can often find ourselves in a rut, staring at a blank screen, unmotivated or discouraged. Sometimes, it can be difficult to find the motivation to move towards our goals. This is where a writing mentor comes in.
A writing mentor can offer us the benefit of their experience by giving us advice and pointing us in the right direction. They can open doors. Writing is as much a business as it is a creative endeavor, so it’s important to stay aware of new developments in the field. Your mentor can share information or point you in the right direction so you can do your own research and find new opportunities and professional contracts.
A good mentor will be someone willing to give you advice and counsel and who’s prepared to direct and support your work. They can offer accountability by helping you set clear goals and then checking to make sure you’re meeting them.
They can also provide emotional support. To be a writer is to face rejection on a regular basis. When no one wants your novel or collection of poems, agents aren’t writing back, and you’ve run out of things to write, it’s crucial to have someone you trust telling you, “Yes, it’s hard. Keep going anyway.” This can help your self-esteem as well as teach you how to balance your emotions throughout rejection and creative drought.
But how do you find a mentor? What is the best way to ask someone to mentor you throughout your creative pursuits? Consider these tips.
Find someone you want to be like
You and your mentor must have overlapping interests. A budding poetry writer benefits from the experience of a published poet. While it’s not necessary that mentor and mentee share the same race, gender or background, it’s important to find someone that is like you, someone with a similar set of strengths and skills you want to emulate. Otherwise, you’ll just end up frustrated. Don’t just find someone who has a job you want or a platform that you covet. Your mentor needs to be aware of underlying assumptions that might impact the mentoring relationship.
When searching for a mentor, ask yourself do you have the same value system? Does the person have the expertise you’re looking for? Do you like the person’s outlook and the type of work they do? Spend some time finding the right person. Have several candidates before committing to a single mentor.
How to ask
Don’t ask for the person to “be your mentor” right off the bat. That’s a question that is too big for the first meeting. Keep the first meet-up casual, such as meeting for coffee. Keep it less than an hour. Come with questions that you’re prepared to ask, but let the conversation flow easily. The formality will depend on the potential mentor’s communication style, which is something you should be aware of before the initial meeting.
When in doubt about when to make the ask, gather your courage and go for it. Your request will actually be quite flattering for the author. Also, keep in mind that mentors have lives and need to spend time writing their own work. Immediately establish the limits of what you expect from the relationship so that your potential mentor doesn’t assume it will be more work than he or she can take on.
Also, remember that you need to express to your mentor why they would want to have you as a mentee. In an essay by Alana Massey, “How to Gracefully Find (and Keep) a Writing Mentor,” she says, “Ask yourself: What do you admire about this person that differs from what you admire in other writers? Do you write about similar topics? Do you share a unique quality or background? Do you think this person will enjoy your writing? How will you demonstrate that? Considering whether this writer would want to mentor you is a difficult exercise in humility. Ultimately, however, it saves both parties the time and emotional energy of a likely rejection.” You must make a case that you are especially interesting as a prospective mentee.
If this sounds too uncomfortable for you, you can always correspond with them over email. Sometimes it is just easier to read social cues and speak with a person eye to eye when asking a big question like this. However, your potential mentor might like speaking over email better.
If you don’t have a specific person in mind yet, there are many places to find a mentor.
Self-guided writing groups
Find a group of writers to meet in person or online to read and workshop your work. This type of group is usually free, you can meet on your own schedule and develop a writing community.
Writing Workshops or Conferences
As an attendee or moderator whose work you respect. These events are full of individuals who could potentially help you on your writing journey. Don’t be afraid to respectfully approach them and discuss what you are looking for.
As you spend time in these various writing communities, you’ll meet people who offer private paid mentoring. Paid mentorship allows you to focus directly on you and your needs.
- Professors or editors you are familiar with, and who have given you encouragement.
- Internet searches for authors in your genre. (Read their blogs; then send an email to potential mentors.)
- NaNoWriMo—There are forums for newbies looking for mentors and mentors looking for newbies.
- Writing centered Facebook groups